Common Mental Health Questions Answered – What’s the Difference Between Therapy and Psychiatry?


Mental health topics are widely discussed and debated in the media, online, at school, at work, and everywhere else. This is partly due to widespread internet access and social media, but it also shows we’re growing as a society. 

So, whether you want to be part of the discussion or you’re actively looking for ways to improve your mental health, it helps to know some of the terminology. For instance, do you know the difference between therapy and psychiatry?

Both terms appear quite often when it comes to mental health, but each has a specific definition and application. Therefore, today, we’ll focus on these two terms and see how each can help. 

Therapy – Definition and Applications

In simple terms, therapy, often referred to as psychotherapy or talk therapy, involves engaging in discussions with a certified professional known as a therapist. 

This dialogue-based process aims at helping individuals overcome their emotional difficulties or mental health struggles by emphasizing self-awareness and understanding. But humans are complex beings with different desires and problems, so you can’t cater to everyone’s needs with just one form of therapy.

In an effort to cater to different issues and personality types, the field of therapy encompases different branches and specialists. As such, we have different types of therapy that can address a variety of problems and personal preferences.

Here are some of the most common types:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This form of therapy helps you identify and change thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or emotional distress.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: Here, you examine unresolved conflicts and unconscious influences from your past, often rooted in childhood experiences that may be shaping your current behavior.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): If you have issues primarily with personal relationships or difficulty connecting with others, IPT will be your go-to strategy. This approach helps you understand and navigate relationships more effectively.
  • Couples’ or Family Therapy: As the name suggests, these therapies aim to resolve relationship problems and promote better understanding among family members or couples.

Psychiatry – Definition and Applications

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine dedicated to treating patients suffering from mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. Unlike therapists, psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. A psychiatrist has an actual medical degree under their belt, allowing them to diagnose complex psychiatric conditions and prescribe medications if needed.

Therefore, when comparing psychiatry vs. therapy, the qualifications of the specialist taking care of your needs are the first to stand out. While therapists also need a specialty degree (usually psychology, counseling, or social work), psychiatrists are the only ones who must have a valid medical degree to be able to practice.

As medically trained professionals, psychiatrists are equipped to diagnose and treat a wide range of mental health disorders. This extends from conditions like anxiety and depression to more complicated illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

This is why finding the right psychiatrist for your needs is crucial. You need a trustworthy and experienced therapist who understands your disorder and can provide a safe space for you to open up.

Which One’s Best for Your Needs?

So, which should you visit – a therapist or a psychiatrist? It depends on your individual needs and circumstances.

If you’re facing life challenges causing emotional distress or if you wish to gain better self-understanding and personal growth, a therapist is your best option. The best part is that, nowadays, you can find plenty of reliable online therapy services that’ll save you a trip to your therapist’s office.

On the other hand, if you suffer from more complex symptoms such as hallucinations, severe depressive symptoms, or drastic mood swings (to name a few), it’s best to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist can diagnose your disorder and offer treatments that can assist with symptom management.

Wrap Up

It’s important to remember that therapy and psychiatry aren’t mutually exclusive. In some cases, a combined therapy and psychiatric treatment approach could prove most effective.

This happens most frequently in the case of long-standing disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, but there are other scenarios when a mixed approach is best. Regardless of the approach, if you’re experiencing mental health struggles that overwhelm you, it’s crucial to consider professional help without hesitation!